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    Wednesday, September 18, 2019-10:07:57A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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Governor signs marijuana legalization bill with line-item vetoes

GOVERNOR Ralph D.L.G. Torres on Friday signed into law House Bill 20-178 which will legalize marijuana in the CNMI. But he also vetoed some of its provisions.

The Taulamwaar Sensible CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018 is now Public Law 20-66.

Click to enlarge
Gov. Ralph D.L.G. Torres smiles as he signs the Taulamwaar Sensible CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018, Friday, at the administration building on Capital Hill.  Photo by David Butterfield

In a statement, the governor said:

“Today, our people made history. We took a stand to legalize marijuana in the CNMI for recreational, medical, and commercial use.

“From the hard work of our Legislature going out and conducting numerous public hearings on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota to the overwhelming support from members of our community, it is only fitting that I sign this bill into law in the best interests of our people, especially those suffering from debilitating illnesses and for our island economy.

“Now, I want to advise the Commonwealth that it is not legal to use marijuana yet. We have 30 days to set up our Cannabis Commission by appointing members from Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and the Northern Islands, and our local legislative delegations need to confirm them within 30 days. Then, our commissioners have 180 days to create the regulations and promulgate them. The regulations take effect 10 days after adoption and publication in our Commonwealth Register.

“We will ensure that this industry is properly regulated and enforced. We want to do this the right way, and I also expect the Legislature to send me a companion bill that outlines my recommendations to strengthen this bill for our community’s public safety and public health.

“I want to thank our Legislature, especially the authors Sen. Sixto K. Igisomar and Rep. Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero, our advocates, and everyone in our community for sharing their concerns and helping us realize this historic day for the people that call these islands home.”

The governor vetoed the provision that would allow a government entity to obtain a business license to grow cannabis, and the provision that requires a $5 permit for recreational use and a $4,500 license fee for a cannabis business.

He said the Legislature should be more specific about the government entities that are allowed to grow marijuana, adding that it should be for purposes of research only. “I don’t believe its right to give the government a business license to grow cannabis. I also think that the fee amount for recreational use should be more than $5…. The same with the commercial use, seeing how lucrative it is in the states, I don’t believe that $4,500 for a license is enough….”

Torres said he signed the bill primarily for medicinal reasons.  Patients who need it should have access to medicinal marijuana, he added.

He noted that the new law also honors the memory of David Kapileo Peter “Taulamwaar,” a local musician and advocate for medicinal marijuana who died of cancer in Oct. 2015. His wife, former Rep. Malua Peter, other family members, advocates and lawmakers witnessed the signing of the bill in the governor’s conference room at the administration building on Capital Hill.

Sensible CNMI’s co-founder Lawrence Duponcheel in a statement said:

“We are proud of our governor and the Legislature for ending the failed policy of marijuana prohibition in the Northern Marianas and adopting a more sensible system of regulation. We look forward to working with lawmakers, the Cannabis Commission, and other stakeholders to implement this legislation swiftly and responsibly.”

Gerry Hemley, co-founder of Sensible CNMI, said:

“The true essence of legalization has always been about the freedom of choice, to use cannabis, without fear of arrest and harassment. It is incredibly satisfying to know that adults and medical patients in CNMI will no longer be punished for consuming cannabis, and by this time next year, they will have safe, legal, and reliable access to it.”

Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said:

“We applaud the governor, the lawmakers, and the advocates of the Northern Mariana Islands for this historic accomplishment. Major policy changes do not come easy, especially when it means seeing past decades of propaganda. The work is not done yet, and we hope officials will continue to take a thoughtful and evidence-based approach to implementing this new regulatory system. Hopefully lawmakers throughout the U.S. will take notice and look to CNMI as an example for how to end prohibition and establish an effective marijuana regulatory system.”